Cotter Agritech has launched its Cotter Crate sheep handling unit and new SmartWorm app on the Irish and UK market.

Developed by Kerry sheep farming brothers and young entrepreneurs Jack and Nick Cotter, the SmartWorm app is marketed as “an advanced weighing and targeted selective treatment (TST) phone app that enables weight recording, treatment management and uniquely enables farmers to conduct targeted selective worming based on an algorithm”.

The algorithm calculates a lamb’s potential growth based on a number of factors including weight gain, rainfall, temperature, pasture availability and pasture quality. It gives each lamb an individual target and if lambs are not reaching the target, it recommends treating the animal for worms.

Exhibiting at last week’s Balmoral Show Nick Cotter, co-founder and CEO of Cotter Agritech, said: “The algorithm uses this information to essentially tell if aspects such as suboptimum grass quality or other environmental factors are the reasons why lambs are underperforming as opposed to a high worm burden”.

The SmartWorm technology uses the performance of sheep to determine the need to treat for worms.

The company claims that use of the algorithm can enable a sheep farmer to reduce their use of wormers by up to 40% without any loss in animal performance.

It adds that the algorithm has been validated in research projects with University College Dublin, Lyons Research Farm and Queen’s University Belfast, highlighting that testing has taken place across 18 commercial sheep farms in Ireland and the UK.

Within these farms, over 4,500 lambs across 18 breeds and lowland, hill and mountainous land types have been put to the test.

Reducing anthelmintic use will obviously reduce cost, but the big gains emphasised by the company include reducing the rate of anthelmintic resistance developing and identifying flock replacements with better worm resilience and resistance.

The back section of the unit folds down for access for tasks such as dagging or crutching sheep.

Jack Cotter, co-founder and CTO of Cotter Agritech, said the fact that farmers can obtain instant information regarding the need to treat their animals has many practical advantages given time to complete tasks is generally at a premium on sheep farms.

A holder for an EID reader allows sheep to be read on passing the unit or for easy access to record information.

“Our hardware and software solution is the most practical, simple and complete way of reducing wormer use on-farm. Farmers can now do TST in a manner which doesn’t slow them down.”

Environmental benefits

The SmartWorm app also includes a medicines database, which gives information on products available on the market. It also includes a novel dung beetle friendliness rating which shows how harmful a product can be on the insects. Dung beetles are important for the efficient breakdown and recycling of nutrients into the soil.

Cotter says the new technology will allow farmers to readily make more informed decisions on the use of anthelmintics at a time when there is increasing scrutiny and limitations on their use while also delivering significant environmental benefits.

“The trend is towards higher welfare and more nature-friendly farming, reduction of chemical use and protection of our biodiversity. And this delivers.

“It will help to preserve and strengthen the sustainability and profitability of farmers and boost agriculture’s social licence.”

SmartWorm cost

The pricing mechanism for SmartWorm is detailed in Table 1, with savings of €30/£30 where committing for a year’s service.

Cotter states farmers can recoup the cost of their investment in a short period.

“For the average Irish sheep flock (109 breeding ewes), a return on investment using our software solution is delivered within 18 months.

“For the average UK sheep flock (220 breeding ewes), it is even quicker and within 12 months.

“This is achieved through delivering wormer and labour savings, breeding improvements and preventing production losses by slowing resistance development on farm.”

Wheels in place to change the unit from fixed to mobile.

SmartWorm can be used with the Cotter Crate or with any other sheep handling and weighing equipment already on farm to conduct selective treatment.

For example, Nick explains they are working to integrate the Trutest weigh bar, Allflex, Agrident and Trutest EID readers and FarmIT3000, TGM and Agriwebb software platforms and others on the market.

Cotter Agritech is offering farmers who already have suitable weighing equipment a three-month free trial of SmartWorm.

Cotter Crate improvements

The company is using the launch of SmartWorm to highlight enhancements it has made to the Cotter Crate, a unit designed to make sheep handling more efficient.

It has come a long way from the initial timber prototype the young Kerry brothers experimented with at the outset to improve the efficiency of handling young lambs.

A unique feature of the unit is the potential to hold an animal at operator height

The latest version is marketed on stress-free completion of tasks in lambs and adult sheep, such as dosing, vaccinating, tagging, dagging, weighing, age identification and mouth assessments, body condition scoring and three-way drafting.

A unique feature of the unit is the potential to hold an animal at operator height with the option of the floor giving way and using gravity to hold an animal in place.

The operator takes control of the unit standing on the platform at the side.

When an animal enters the race, the sides close in to clamp the animal in place and the floor drops open.

This prevents the animal from using the floor to gain traction with its legs for movement and holds it securely in place.

When the particular task at hand is complete, the sides of the race are eased open and the animal drops down below the race.

The floor can also remain in place while tasks are being completed if operators prefer.

Another marketing point of the unit is the ability to quickly alter the width of the race and height of the sides in the main unit for handling sheep varying in size from young hill lambs to pedigree animals.

The Cotter family is also proud of a number of add-ons accumulated with experience.

The dose holder and hanging platform mean products or clippers, etc, are readily at hand.

Nick Cotter demonstrating how the floor of the unit drops leaving an animal held by gravity for easier administering of health treatments.

The base of the unit is now fitted with rubber, giving greater stability to animals, while the unit itself is constructed from stainless steel and plastic sides.

Cost of unit

The unit can be broken down into three main components.

The standard unit consist of the lead-up ramp, main crate, anti-backing flaps and dose holder.

Available in right or left hand versions, it costs €4,400 (£3,689) excluding VAT.

The main unit with a higher side in place for handling larger breeds of sheep and rams.

The second component is the three-way drafting unit which includes the off-ramp and a bolt-on draft door fitted to the back of the unit. This costs €1,475 (£1,242) excluding VAT.

The third main component is a set of plug-and-play digital load bars to enable the weighing function of the crate. This add-on costs €2,025 (£1,704) and the weigh bars are compatible with all major weighing monitor brands.

It also comes with a one-year subscription of the SmartWorm technology.

The company says the hardware is supported by Government grant aid for Irish farmers under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) and for English farmers under the Farmer Equipment and Technology Fund (FETF).

The unit is also grant-aided for Welsh Farmers under the recently opened small grants – efficiency scheme.